The activist fighting the mines

Author: Lilit Mkhitaryan


Tehmine Yenokyan, 32, is an Armenian journalist and activist who has been fighting against an international mining company that wants to dig for gold in the mountains near her home.

The Amulsar mountain is believed to be full of gold – an estimated 74,000 kilograms – and silver. The mountain is about eight kilometers from Yenokyan's village of Gndevaz, around 170 kilometers from the capital Yerevan.

For years, Yenokyan has fought against the mine, struggling against her own fellow villagers and people in the region who lobby for the jobs and investment promised by the mining company, Lydian Armenia.

But for Yenokyan, the mine has never represented opportunity. Instead of jobs, she sees land – apricot orchards and other gardens – that has been owned by local families for generations, lost in the dust and destruction of modern mining.

Many apricot plots in her village have already been purchased by the mining company and the trees have been cut down.

For years, Yenokyan's struggle was small and, many believed, doomed. The mining project had the support of the former government, and it was supported by the US and UKembassies as a vehicle for regional development.

But work at the mine has been suspended since July 2018, as residents of nearby villages (Jermuk, Gndevaz and Kechut) began protesting along with environmental activists and blocking the road to the mine.

Lydian Armenia won a license to exploit an open mine with a cyanide factory from the previous government. The current government, which came to power after mass protests forced former President Serzh Sargsyan to step down, suspended work on the mine until a study of the risks to water and geology could be completed. The resulting 150-page document was reportedly completed in May but has not been published yet, pending translation.

Local villagers are not waiting for the results of the study: 19 have already joined a lawsuit against Armenia's Ministry of Energy, Infrastructure and Natural Resources for allowing the mine to operate under the former government.

Lydian Armenia has started its own legal case against environmental activist Yenokyan: the company is suing her for slander for the expression "criminal Lydian."  The company is demanding a million Armenian drams (approximately $2000) compensation for damaging its reputation.

Despite the lawsuit, Yenokyan says she is more confident today than ever. After years of struggling to convince people to fight against the mine, members of her family and community have now joined her campaign. The future of her community, she says, lays in the green fields and mountains of a resort, not the deep holes and ravines of a gold mine.